Journalists reporting on surveillance expansion convicted of disclosing state secrets
Freedom of expression
Journalists convicted of disclosing state secrets
On 27th January 2023, a Helsinki court convicted Tuomo Pietiläinen and Laura Halminen, journalists with Finland’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, of disclosing state secrets, with Pietiläinen fined approximately EUR 4,200. The ruling, which came after a lengthy trial, relates to a series of articles authored by the two journalists that revealed Finland's plans to expand the powers of its security services for surveillance and covert operations at home and abroad. The Helsinki District Court also ruled that the outlet must remove the articles from their website. According to the ruling, national security was not harmed or endangered by the articles, but the conviction is based on the notion that the journalists took a “deliberate risk” to national security and that their actions would have been justified only if a significant abuse of power had been revealed.
The newspaper reacted to the verdict by highlighting that the articles did not disclose any state secrets and that the information published was already publicly available. Moreover, they specified that the Finnish Defence Forces knew about the articles before they were published but did not reach out to the paper’s editors.
Helsingin Sanomien toimittajien #tuomio huolestuttava. Vähentää kansalaisten mahdollisuutta saada tietoa viranomaisten toiminnasta. ”Tuomio poikkeuksellinen, vedenjakaja suomalaisessa journalismissa”, sanoo liiton puheenjohtaja Hanne Aho. #Viestikoekeskus https://t.co/70scv1jKXW— Journalistiliitto (@Journ_liitto) January 27, 2023
Two MPs attack journalists
On 22nd January 2023, MP Arto Luukkanen, secretary of the far-right Finns Party, publicly discredited the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper in a Tweet, accusing journalist Tommi Nieminen of having “twisted” his statements about the Finns Party's election campaign financing. Nieminen's article said Lukkaken had claimed his party hadn’t received any money from unions and businesses, which then turned out to be false. Nieminen responded to the accusations, pointing out that the MP's statements were taken directly from the interview recording and that Luukkanen had never asked to authorise his quotes, as allowed by Finnish journalistic guidelines.
In a Twitter post the next day, National Coalition Party MP Wille Rydman threatened to initiate legal action against local newspaper Ilkka-Pohjalainen and their journalist Marja Tyynismaa over an article alleging he had messaged underage girls inappropriately. Rydman stated these were false allegations on the part of the newspaper and “fake news”. He also referred to another article, published in June 2022 by Helsingin Sanomat, containing an interview with a woman who claimed Rydman had taken advantage of his political position to pursue connections with young women and underage girls, calling it a “sh*t article”. In July 2022, the MP filed a criminal complaint against Helsingin Sanomat and three of its journalists over the article in question. After the article was published, Rydman was expelled from his parliamentary group.
🇫🇮 On 22 January, member of the Finnish parliament and party secretary of the right-wing Finns Party @ArtoLuukkanen discredited newspaper Helsingin Sanomat @hsfi on Twitter: https://t.co/rjXK2VsERn pic.twitter.com/Df1UF0LJ7Q— Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) (@MediaFreedomEU) February 3, 2023
Public broadcaster bans media from taking photos at press conference
On 10th January 2023, the Finnish public broadcaster Yle banned photographers and journalists from taking photographs at a press conference held for Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (UMK), a national music competition to represent Finland at Eurovision. The invitation received by all major news outlets included instructions for journalists and photographers explaining they were not allowed to take still pictures at the event, and that Yle would provide the media with “high-quality artist photos” instead. UMK's chief producer, Anssi Autio, clarified in an interview that the event was “intended as a relaxed gathering of journalists and artists”, and not a traditional press conference. He went on to explain that the decision to ban photography was to ensure the use of specific images that were “in line with the brand's vision”.
The move drew criticism from journalists and academia, as well as the Council for Mass Media (JSN) and the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF), who saw it as infringing on the editorial independence of news outlets. Eero Hyvönen, chairman of JSN, declared that he “does not consider it a good practice” to limit the media's right to film events. The restriction was seen by freedom of expression advocates as an attempt to exercise control over journalistic content.